Road Trip USA

Belvedere, South Dakota Mileage: 1053. 36

Yesterday turned out to be as arduous as trying to pry a three-day, baked aardvark off of asphalt.

We did get to view the splendiferous and crazy corn palace, initially constructed in 1892.
Conceived by two men to revive Mitchell, South Dakota. Who knew it would still be the center of industry for the town over two hundred years later? Every year themed panels are redesigned and constructed to grace the outside walls. Think Rose Parade, but with corn—thirteen different shades. The theme this year: “American Pride.” Inside, panels deck the auditorium from previous years. Of course, several varieties of popcorn are for sale. My favorite designs were from Native American artist, Oscar Howe, who designed the palace for decades. I enjoyed his simple designs of Native Americans, pioneers nature and rural life. Geese. I especially liked the year of Myths and Legends. All of the walls and spires used to be covered with rye, corn or husks, now they’ve reduced the display to just the panels, but still a creative plum in an otherwise arid area.

We left. Drove west on Highway 90 for hundreds of miles with a heat index of over 100 degrees. Drove and drove. Stopped in at a rest area in Chamberlain, to view a Lewis and Clark display. I liked the replica of the Lewis and Clark’s “Expedition,” the long boat or keel. The boat comprises the mezzanine level of the rest area and extends outside where one can view a beautifully designed lodge, or teepee, polls and the panorama of the river.
After that, the only view—the Great Plains and hundreds of billboards, mostly for Waldrug. The road a straight line, the trees few. Our tempers and the dashboard steamed. I rigged a towel in the window on the driver’s side to provide some shelter from the white heat of the sun. We spent the night in a KOA cabin in the middle of nowhere. I dreamed of Louis and Clark and their impossible and crazy two and a half year trek over North America without air conditioning.

Jackson, Minnesota Mileage: 720.17 Miles

Yesterday, we started out in the Amana German Colonies. Molly asked me if I liked the place. I understood the question. We went into the Old Time General Store and walked right out. It was one of those heavily-scented stores that carry worthless minutiae: bears with glistening stars and stripes bows, lavender-chip potpourri, and items that tout gardening, cats and home. Stuff. Many of the silver-haired tourists were stout white ladies wearing capris and matching t-shirts. I fit right in. Which made me uncomfortable.

I thought, perhaps I had been unkind. Perhaps, there poets and intellectuals among the crowd. Perhaps, those with colorful or checkered pasts. My experience tells me probably not. Most people are rather common. Particularly, the white-bread Midwest. Later I heard several people gush over the grandness of the general store and the family style restaurants. However, compared to all the broken, potted out towns of the Midwest, Amana is crisp and clean. Employing some and doing well. We both enjoyed the store with the handmade quilts. I particularly enjoyed the modern one, with its cascading iridescent patterns on a black background. I purchased a ticket for a quilt raffle, a beautiful example that had taken a prize in the county fair. Holding on to Muncie, our yearly bizarre and quilt raffle.

Then we drove north to the SPAM museum and had just an hour. Molly graciously gave in to my sojourn; being a vegetarian, she had no interest herself. Some of my memories from my impoverished childhood include fried SPAM with mustard and the turnkey that opened the tin. Put together very well, the museum included films about the Spamettes and the Hormel girls, a personal letter from President Eisenhower acknowledging Hormel’s contribution to the war effort, and acknowledging the jokes about SPAM asking if so much had to be sent. There was also a Christmas letter from the founder to a group of 1,600 service men apologizing for not writing a personal letter to each and every one, which he had done for the previous two years. He also enclosed a five-dollar note each year for every man.
Varieties of SPAM in the gift store included an extra spicy hot variety sold in Guam, a Tabasco SPAM, SPAM with cheese chunks, pepper, smoked, glazed, Lite or turkey SPAM. The restaurants in town offer SPAM entrees on the menu. However, we opted for hummus and olive sandwiches and Caesar salad in the parking lot during an ensuing downpour. We drove down the road to a KOA camp, went swimming and fell into bed entirely beat. Although, for me that doesn’t necessary equate to sleep. Some slim motorcyclists woke me up this morning. Beautiful, blonde, Swede twins. One had a wife and a child. They suited up in their leathers including the young girl and zoomed away. Not the common man.

To Storey Lake, IL Mileage: 291.1
(Spelled correctly)

Last night my family privately said goodbye to IN. We stopped on the road home just at that crepuscular time of day when the sky meets the hem of earth in blankets. A thousand fireflies flicked between the cornrows as far as the eye could see back to the forest. When we got home we built a bonfire and sang songs like “Spirit of Life,” “Impossible,” “Shaving Cream” and “Moon River,” any lyrics we could remember—
especially tributes to Julie Andrews or pirates.

Today, Molly, my twenty-one year old daughter, and I drove to Galesburg, IL, on the first leg of our trip to Seattle. We had our first crisis and solved it. When we stopped in Peoria for dinner, she locked her keys in the car. Fortunately, we had my copy. Our so we thought, my keys had fallen under the seat just before leaving the car. Although Molly retrieved them, we didn’t know the actual car key had come off of its ring and was still under the front seat. Timing is everything, like when we were driving down the road and I turned to the right. A blonde boy in a straw cowboy hat was seated in his father’s lap behind the wheel of a tractor. Nice Rockwellean view. Timing. We are so delighted that AAA rocks. In an hour and a half we were back on the road, and I earned back half of what I paid for membership.

We set up camp at Storey Lake (correct spelling). Both a beautiful and symbolic place. When our kids were young and we took trips back home from Texas to Colorado, we camped at a site with the same name. We fell into bed exhausted. However, Molly says my sleeplessness, tossing and turning, tends to create epic journeys at night as well. Indeed.

To Amana, Iowa Mileage: 457.65

This morning we breakfasted on Greek yogurt and fruit, Kashi bars. Took a brief stroll around Story Lake, but found the path rather woody as we would the Black Hawk park later on down the road. Evidence of our bad economy punishing our parks and monuments. Ironically, the Black Hawk Museum is a still-gorgeous building built by over two hundred WWII vets enrolled in Theodore Roosevelt’s CCC program during the depression. Most of the original building materials like limestone are local. There was one fabulous hall with two monolithic fireplaces. The museum houses a nice bust of Blackhawk, a couple of cheesy dioramas and reading material about BH as well as CCC program. Black Hawk’s story entered American history at one of its most tragic periods. After siding with the British in the American Revolution, thousands of Black Hawk’s people were slaughtered. Some of the mounds still exist, oddly in the residential areas of the town. Just beyond the park’s hedge is a view of a huge strip mining operation. What a contrast. Symbolic. After that we visited a Confederate P.O.W. gravesite. Really just a postage stamp of a cemetery. A few hundred graves with white headstones line up for inspection. No death dates, only numbers and names. Very quiet.

From there we headed to Amana German Colonies, IL. We had dinner in one of the recommended German restaurants; however, we found it to be the quality of a German-style Bob Evans. Disappointing to say the least. It was hot, hot, hot. No shade. I stopped in the only establishment open after five, a winery. The proprietor is a loquacious man of serious dimensions. He gave me some bottled water (I was too hot even for beer) and talked amicably about the place and clued us in on some places to stay. I shelled out some cash for a bed and breakfast, also somewhat disappointing, but a bed, air-conditioning and a shower, which I need after last night’s escapades. Tomorrow we will tour the town, sample some local beer and then we’re off to the Spam Museum and Corn Palace.


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